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pathways (letters)

24 February 1997

Dear Daniel,

In my last letter to you about book shops I neglected to respond to the points you made about Dummett and evolutionary theory. Actually, I only have a couple of points to make about Dummett, but I thought I would send you this quick note — in lieu of unit 15, which is still 'in preparation'!

I think at least part of your response to Dummett's writing is due to the sheer weight of prose — Dummett demonstrates some of the worst vices of academic writing — and also, as I think I have remarked before, this particular article poses serious difficulties even for professonal philosophers trying to pick their way through the arguments.

Having said that, Dummett's first book Frege Philosophy of Language (Duckworth 1973) was an inspiration to me when I read it as a second-year undergraduate. It's worth trying to get hold of a copy if you can (perhaps on inter-library loan). Dummett has thought more deeply than most academic philosophers about the fundamental questions of the philosophy of logic and the philosophy of language. But his 'rules' theory of concepts is wrong (in my view). Since most philosophers' theories are wrong, that is the least serious criticism one could make of him as a philosopher! The theory itself poses little threat, largely because so few persons are able to really understand it! (myself included, at least on some days).

I did have the opportunity to put my objection to Dummett's account of the mechanism of the criticism of concepts in terms of changing the 'rules for use' directly to him at a seminar in Oxford once. His response was along the lines of, 'I don't know what to say about that.' It is a measure of his elevated stature (the 'seminar' was more like a lecture audience packed with dons and graduate students) that he could get away with that reply!

On the piece by K. Morrison 'Why Present School Inspections are Unethical', I do have a new Diploma student (who is a schoolmaster at a Catholic school in Eire) who wants to write essays on Bertrand Russell, and the Philosophy of Education, or possibly both. If you could get me a copy to send on to him I'm sure he would be interested to read it.

Meanwhile — in preparation for unit 15 — you might like to think about the meaning of the little words 'I' and 'now': why it is that a truth conditional account of these concepts must necessarily fail to grasp in its net the reality of the I-now.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Klempner